OSFA support for the creation and strengthening of the Albanian civil society dates back to the very first day of the creation of the Open Society Foundation for Albania in the year 1992. At this time, there was a total absence of non governmental structures dedicated to the protection of civic rights and public interest which made the OSFA support a crucial and powerful determinant in the development of the sector. OSFA paid special attention to the creation, funding, capacity development and specialization of the first Albanian NGO-s. Following the crisis of 1997 which underlined the importance of a well developed civil society in the country, the OSFA civil society program was restructured to respond to the newly created situation. After the year 1997, assistance was more structured, longer term and better programmed than before. It was no longer an emergency situation. The main goal of the Civil Society Program became the institutionalization of the basic rules and standards of civil society like respect for human rights, rule of law, freedom of expression, support for mechanisms and structures of shaping public opinion and ensuring check and balance principles, positive pressure on the governmental structures, etc.
The Program supported the increase of civil society capacitates, protection of the rights of vulnerable groups, the spread of liberal ideas and democratic values, etc. Special attention was paid to the encouragement of civic participation in policy and decision making. One of the biggest achievements of the Civil Society Program is the building of a broad based coalition of NGO-s, donors, international agencies and other actors concerned with impacting the formulation and implementation of social policies in Albania.
In the framework of the Civil Society Program, attention was paid to the improvement of capacities of NGO staff to design and implement projects and absorb available funding. Priority is given to projects initiated by representatives of vulnerable groups and those dedicated to the promotion and protection of human rights, minorities and marginalized groups. In addition, the Civil Society Program launched educational activities dedicated to building awareness of the wide public on the need to cultivate democratic values and liberal notions, primarily in the younger generation, but also among the mature population. Civil Society continues to be one of the pillars of OSFA work. Based on its 2006-2008 platform, OSFA is working to develop the capacities of civil society organizations towards enabling its actors to maintain social responsibility while being an effective player in governance issues. Special attention is paid to promotion of civic activism and critical thinking. These goals are being achieved in close cooperation with NOSA partner organizations such as the Mjaft Movement, Partners Albania, etc.
Some of the objectives of its work over this period are:
- Strengthening the organizational capacities of NGO-s; developing monitoring, advocacy and lobbying skills in the civil society organizations towards enabling them to influence policy and decision making in favor of public benefit, etc.;
- Promoting independence of the sector from the government and politics to ensure its integrity and public credibility;
- Installing self regulating standards among the non profit organizations which will help to enhance and improve their public image.
The concentration areas of the Civil Society Program until the year 2005 are grouped under three main objectives and a large variety of projects:
A. Increasing Civil Society Capacity
The following projects stand out under this objective:
Improving the legal framework of the civil society sector
Building a data base of experts and expertise in the field of civil society
Establishing and strengthening civil society capacity
Information and civil society in the rural areas
“Albania Think Again” Project
Yellow Pages of the Albanian Non Profit Organizations
B. Minorities and Marginalized Groups of Society
The following projects were implemented to attain the second objective:
Improving inter ethnic relations in South Eastern European Countries
Representation as an instrument of integration
Establishment of an Educational and Cultural Center for Roma Children
Holding joint activities among Roma, Egyptian and children from other communities
Integration of Roma through promotion of their ethnic values
Educating Roma through audio channels
Civil Society in the implementation of the National Disabilities Strategy
Establishing a network of trained people to support parents of children with mental disabilities
Sociological analysis of single parent families
Enhancing job access for women and girls
Attempting to integrate the satellite communes in the bigger Tirana city
Establishing leisure and recreational centers
Establishing Community Centers for Roma youth and children
C. Civic Education
Around the third objective, the following projects were implemented:
The Pre-University Education Program
Establishing Education Boards
The Higher Education Support Program
Promoting Public Discussions
Promoting participation at local level through community based action
Examining media role in the coverage of organized crime
Campaigning for protection of civic liberties
Moving beyond borders
Together on the road to cooperation
Promoting democratic culture and Code of Ethics during the election campaign of 2005
“This is where I decide” Project
Holding a cycle of debates on “European Union and Albania”
Building awareness of the Albanian public on the EU and Albania’s integration
Capacity building for civil society organizations/Improving the legal framework for the non profit sector
Given the importance of a modern and flexible legal framework, the Civil Society Program launched a number of activities towards attaining this objective. One of these activities was OSFA support for a group of experts who were hired to work on a project called “Improving the legal framework for the non-profit sector in Albania”. The main goal of the project was to provide support to the development and strengthening of the civil society sector in Albania by helping to create an enabling legal and financial environment. This would facilitate the creation and operation of non-profit organizations, lobby groups, professional associations and the creation of mechanisms that promote the transparency and enhance the image of non governmental organizations in the eyes of the public. The team of experts took into account all of the conclusions drawn by a World Bank study on civil society in Albania and worked to identify articles in the law or recommend by-laws and/or come up with changes/amendments to be made. The main directions of the team’s concentration were:
- Review of articles in the law related to registration procedures for non profit organizations. Review of the licensing and contracting procedures for service-oriented non-profit organizations and harmonization of these procedures with the registration rules;
- Review of the legal framework with regard to resource mobilization (or the tax reform);
- Proposal of necessary legal amendments in favor of a better and more efficient, as well as more transparent and responsible management of the sector.
A series of working meetings were held among experts and representatives of non profit organizations in Tirana, Vlora, Durres, Shkoder, Elbasan and Korce. Following the drafting of the document, efforts were concentrated to pressure the decision making structures to adopt the proposed changes. Negotiations were started with the Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs, the Finance Ministry and the General Tax Directorate as well as with the Parliamentary Commissions of Social Affairs and the Economy, etc. Among the main outcomes of this project was the creation of a legal framework which provides for stability and operationality of the organizations in the non profit sector. Also, the project encouraged the introduction of mechanisms of internal control in the non profit organizations, unified systems of accounting and finances which further contributed to the transparency of the sector and improvement of the image and reputation of civil society organizations in the eyes of the public.
Improving civil society capacities/Creation of a database of NGO experts and expertise
In the framework of building capacity for civil society organizations, it was necessary to work towards the identification of experts who could be hired to contribute to the achievement of the goal. To this end, OSFA launched the project called “Establishing a data base of civil society experts and expertise”. The project started implementation in 2003. The data base was designed to identify, promote and encourage the participation of local experts in projects financed by international and local resources, including cross border and regional projects. The collected information was structured according to several search levels:
- According to area of concentration;
-According to sub-field which implies an accurate specification of expert profile;
- According to geographic region at national, regional or local level.
The results of the project were manifold. Primarily, it assisted the identification of local expertise, the effective use of human resources available in Albania, better orientation of the donors and the entering of the records in the global networks of information. About 300 experts and organizations were entered in the database. The usefulness of the database is demonstrated by the great number of visitors who refer to the website of the project on the internet.
Improving civil society capacity/Strengthening the capacities of the non profit organizations
The improvement of civil society capacity in Albania was considered to be an all-round cooperational process involving a constant flow and exchange of information. The OSFA Civil Society program envisaged a series of training programs for members of civil society organizations. Among the most important, mention can be made of trainings provided in financial management, human resource management, project design and management, conducting advocacy and lobbying by NGO-s. In addition to grant making, OSFA ran its own operational program in this field called “Establishing and strengthening civil society capacity” The Program involved a number of trainings which were delivered in several parts of the country. The outline of the modules was designed by OSFA, whereas the actual training was outsourced to various organizations with capacity in the required field. The project’s aim was to upgrade the knowledge and skills of NGO managers, project coordinators, administrators and board members towards greater efficiency in the management of resources available to implement their mission.
In project implementation, OSFA worked closely with Partners Albania, an organization specializing in providing training and capacity building services for civil society organizations in the country. Partners Albania is a non profit organizations aspiring to achieve a developed civil society and the creation of the culture for change and conflict management. This particular project was one of the many instances of successful cooperation in the filed of capacity building for civil society organizations in Albania. Another project worth to be mentioned is the one called “Increasing civil society capacity in financial management, project management, advocacy and building” which started in March 2005. Under this project, Partners Albania offered nine 3 day training courses in financial management, project management and lobbying & advocacy by civil society organizations as a response to the needs expressed by various NGO-s throughout the country. Participants were representatives of NGO-s from the regions of Shkodër, Berat, Gjirokastër, Vlorë, Fier, Dibër, Durrës, Elbasan and Lezhë.
Improving civil society capacity/Information and civil society in the rural parts of the country
What sets OSFA’s Civil Society intervention apart from that of other donors is its involvement with small organizations in the rural and remote parts of the country. In addition, help went to organizations representing minority or marginalized and vulnerable groups. In many cases, the organizations or segments of civil society which fell out of the attention of other donors became part of OSFA projects in its efforts to improve civil society capacity in Albania.
This was the express aim of the Project “Information, an important factor for the development of civil society structures in rural areas”, implemented in September 2000 – March 2001 by the Center for Rural Research and Development. The main impact was made through the publishing of the journal “Rural Albania” which was widely distributed and disseminated. Another project to this end was “Improving the capacities of community based organizations in the rural parts of Shkodra and Lushnja”. OSFA’s studies and surveys had shown that NGOs were few in numbers in these areas and their activity was limited. They had little information on the existence and activity of similar organizations; their capacities were weak, etc. It was generally noted that associations and community based groups in the rural parts were weak as regards project design and implementation and had little or no knowledge in financial management. These organizations were largely inactive and did little or no community work.
The overall goal of the project was to promote the development of civil society in regions like Shkodra, Lushnja, Kruja and their rural parts, by putting particular emphasis on community based organizations. For this purpose, the project identified 10 groups which were trained over a one year period. They were also coached and assisted in their daily work with project management, financial management and organizational building as a means to contribute to the development of their areas, fight poverty and increase transparency of their organizations and build their image with their constituents. Direct outcomes of this project were the strengthening of community based organizations, fund raising capacities improved, increased funding attracted by foreign donors and local sources. In addition, these organizations contributed to the development of their areas, reduction of poverty levels, civic activism, etc.
Capacity building for civil society/“Finiks” Project
The OSFA Civil Society Program provided support to the establishment and strengthening of organizations representing vulnerable groups like Roma, but also homosexuals. With regard to homosexuals, OSFA had taken note of the fact that there was no legislation to guarantee their status in the Albanian society. For this reason support was granted to organizations representing them to strengthen their capacities to protect their rights. One of these groups, with no protection from the government and stigmatized by society, became part of a project called “Finiks” funded by OSFA. The association of “Gay Albania” implemented many of the activities in the project, among which also the publishing of a journal called “The Enigma” and a campaign to increase subscription to the Gay Association of people who were afraid of joining because of the social stigma.
Civil society capacity building/The project “Albania Think Again”
The OSFA Civil Society Program dedicated to civil society capacity building was also focused on encouraging debates of an academic nature as was the project “Albania Think Again”. This project constituted in the publication of a series of working papers by Albanian students doing post graduate programs abroad. The project also drew on the contributions by Albanian professors teaching abroad. The project was funded by OSFA and implemented by two civil society institutes, the Albanian Institute for International Studies and the Albanian Center for Social and Economic Research. The project was implemented in two stages. The first stage was dedicated to the publishing of working papers, i.e., 3-4 essays were published yearly. The second stage has to do with the publishing of discussion papers which appeared every other month and were meant for a wider audience.
It was remarkable to see that a great number of Albanian students overseas doing masters and PhD programs took a deep interest in Albanian issues. The contributed research was carefully reviewed. The first research to be published was the one by Prof. Albert Doja, lecturer at the University of Hall, Department of Social Anthropology entitled “Religious policies in the reconstruction of identity, the case of Albania”. The second research published was the one by Mr. Aldo Bumci called “Macedonia and the Albanians”.
Through the kind of publications described above, the project served to upgrade the level of scientific research by local civil society. Also through the project, it was made possible to identify human capacities capable and willing to engage in local debate on the side of civil society. The project assisted in the establishment of bridges of communication with Albanian students and academics abroad, in the forging of relations between them and Albanian experts in the public institutions and the research centers and independent thinks tanks in Albania. It contributed among other things in the feeding of the debate about Albanian issues related to the progress of democracy, transition, economic reforms, and relations with foreign countries, European integration issues and relations with the NATO. Published research was made available to the governmental agencies, the parliament, ministries, research institutions, libraries and other concerned entities.
Civil society capacity Building/Yellow Pages of
This internet side called Yellow Pages of Albanian NGO-s is intended to facilitate the communication and exchange of non profit organizations at various degrees throughout Albania. It also provides possibilities for establishing relations between/among organizations in Albania, but also in the region and beyond. Another intention of the project is to facilitate the building of networks, exchange of information and other resources towards contributing to the purpose of NGO-s engaging in joint projects. The Yellow Pages of Albanian NGO-s is expected to raise the level of awareness of Albanian NGO-s in various parts of Albania towards a more effective participation in policy making and civic activism.
OSFA conceived the project as a database of the type of Yellow Pages. The implementation was entrusted to the Albanian Foundation for Civil Society which specializes in the processing of data related to civil society and has an extensive network of partners and collaborators in all regions of Albania. The value of the database resumes a special value in view of the fact that it serves as a resource of domestic expertise which offers certain advantages over the foreign expertise (costs less, has a better understanding of local phenomena, etc.). Foreign expertise may be required/procured whenever there is a shortage of local expertise or when the local expertise is not up to the quality requirements. The data base is available on the internet site www. albanianngo.org.
Minorities and marginalized groups/Improvement of inter-ethnic relations in South East Europe
The awareness of the Albanian society and governmental authorities with regard to the difficult living conditions of the Roma population was not up to the standards of a democratic society. Often, the difficult social and economic conditions of the Roma community were attributed to their “culture” and “mentality”, their “mode of living”. This is a way of prejudice and bias against the community which overlooks the discrimination suffered by the population and the responsibilities of the government and society. For these reasons, the Civil Society Program paid special attention to problems related to this community. Until the year 1999, the Foundation ran a specially dedicated Roma Program entirely dealing with issues of this community.
Later, the program was incorporated into the Civil Society Program. A cooperation agreement was singed with the “King Badouin Foundation” of Belgium. The joint efforts were embodied in the project “Improving inter ethnic relations in South East Europe” which was outsourced to the Human Development Promotion Center. The purpose of the program was to promote good relations between/among the various ethnicities and communities within and among the seven countries of South East Europe. In order to achieve this objective, the program combined grant making to the organizations belonging to these communities with capacity building of both organizations and community members. At the local level, the program focused on the development of dialogue between/among the communities around issues of common concern. A number of small grants were given out for the purpose of encouraging local development. In addition, assistance was provided towards capacity building at the grass roots in order to establish communication bridges among the various communities.
Minorities and marginalized groups/Representation as an instrument for integration
Programs and projects dedicated to the Roma community have specifically concentrated to the most problematic and vulnerable groups of the Albanian Roma, i.e., the women and children. Children received special care and attention due not only to the difficult conditions that they grow in, but also because of the great potential they hold for the future of any community. The rationale behind the assistance that the Soros Foundation dedicated to Roma children had to do with the fact that today’s children are tomorrow’s grown ups who can fight to pull their community out of poverty into normal life. In this way, efforts were concentrated on the future, while addressing at the same time the most urgent issues that concerned the life of Roma in Albania.
The fight against illiteracy as one of the ways to help integrate Roma children into the larger community became one of the areas of thrust for OSFA work. A number of projects designed to combat illiteracy among Roma children were implemented by Roma NGO-s, but also by non-Roma NGOs. One of the projects implemented under these efforts was called “Representation as an instrument for integration” and was implemented by the Association called “Rebirth of Apollonia” in Fier. One of the main purposes of the project was to enroll Roma children in school in the year 2004-2005. The Roma community in the village of Drize in Fier set up a representation team which was involved with enrolling Roma children in school. In addition, they did educational and awareness building of the members of the Roma community to send their children in school as a precondition for the emancipation and integration of their community into the mainstream society. The result was that 60 Roma children were enrolled and attended school regularly. To enable these children to go to school a van was made available for their transportation. Apart from the main reason of enrolling Roma children in school, this project was successful in making an impact on the self organization of the Roma community in Driza village of the Fieri region.
Minorities and marginalized groups/Educational and cultural center for Roma children
Other projects funded by OSFA were designed to combat illiteracy in the ranks of Roma children and integrate them in the mainstream Albanian society. In the village of Morave, in the Berat region, an educational and cultural center was set up in the year 2003 with Soros resources by the “Berati women for development”. This center served mainly to the orphan Roma children. The children were given the opportunity to engage in various activities such as painting, singing and other creational and recreational courses. In addition, the center offered basic computer knowledge to these children in order to introduce them to modern technologies. In this way, these children were kept away from straying activities in the absence of parental control and oversight, but were also offered care and support, something they were much in need of. In addition to the services for children, this center carried out awareness building activities about the various social and other problems concerning the Roma community.
Minorities and marginalized groups/Joint activities among Roma, Egyptian and children from other ethnicities
Along side with enhancing educational levels of Roma children, the Civil Society Program of the Soros Foundation paid special attention to the integration of Roma and Egyptian children with children of different backgrounds. One such project was the one called: “Brining Roma, Egyptian and other children together in social activities” implemented by the association “Free thought and initiative.” Funded by the Open Society Foundation for Albania, the project was implemented in Lushnje in the year 2002. The activities involved 300 children of which 100 were from Roma families. Put together in mixed teams, children attended various courses such as the literature course, the reading course, the math course, the music course, the painting course, the history course and the gymnastics course. Through these courses the children became friends with one another regardless of their social and ethnic background. At the same time these courses helped to improve educational levels of Roma children. At the closure of the courses, the children had prepared a giant show which was attended by parents of all ethnicities and backgrounds.
The association called “Social Club” in Korca followed the same objective with the project “Integrating Egyptian children”. The project was implemented in the period of April-June 2002 and targeted the best 30 students of the eighth grade and 60 most problematic students of the sixth and seventh grades, all from the Egyptian community. The aim of the project was to encourage the best students to continue with secondary education and the problematic students to stay in school to complete compulsory education. The project involved teachers to provide the students with extra classes in various subjects such as literature, math, physics, chemistry, language and biology. In addition, the project focused on children with an irregular school attendance and offered advice and counseling not to neglect school and adopt a regular and effective attendance. At the end of the project, a poetry contest was organized called “Egyptian children”. Prices were given out for the best poems and an excursion and picnic in nature was organized with the participating children.
Sports activities have also been useful in bringing Roma and non Roma children together. A project implemented by the Roma NGO of “Amoro Dive” took on the form of a sports festival. The activities involved 136 children from various communities, mainly Roma who competed with one-another in several sports like football, athletics, horse riding, etc. The project contributed to the encouraging of competitiveness and sports capacities of Roma children as a way to keep them away from straying activities. Also, the children of various backgrounds were brought together into interactive events, thus contributing to friendship and friendliness between Roma and non-Roma children. The OSFA Civil Society Program has provided support to the development of football events with the participation of Roma teams, not just in Albania, but also in the region. The program funded the participation of the Albanian Club of Roma sportsmen in a football contest in Ulqin, Montenegro, thus contributing to promotion of football and other sports among the Roma communities in the region.
Minorities and marginalized groups/Roma integration based on their authentic values
The disadvantaged status of the Roma in the Albanian society is not just the result of their low educational levels. First of all, the discrimination and marginalization of this community is also the result of prejudice and bias by the dominant Albanian society vis-à-vis the Roma community. Based on this conception, the OSFA Civil Society Program has taken care to not just underline the Roma problems, but to also throw light and bring out the values and virtues of this community. To achieve this end, the OSFA Civil Society Program provided support to projects highlighting the cultural values of the Roma population. Thanks to these efforts, it has been possible to revive some of the old folk songs of the Roma, both in the urban and rural areas. Through interviews with old and young Roma singers and instrument players, through conversations and research in the Roma populated areas it has been possible to exhume old songs of the Roma folklore which had fallen into oblivion.
A similar initiative was represented by the project “Integrating Roma through their own values” implemented by the Roma Association “Diutni-Albania” over the period of February-March 2003. As part of this project, an orchestra was created with the participation of Roma musicians. In addition, a dance group was put together with the participation of both Roma and non-Roma dancers. In follow up events, the band designed posters of its members under the motto “Melody brings together and integrates.” Leaflets were also designed with information about the culture, history and present situation of the Roma community. These leaflets were distributed in the concerts held by the band and in which traditional Roma music was played alongside with Albanian music as well as modern contemporary music from abroad. The concerts were attended by audiences made up of members of all communities living in Albania. These musical events were very useful in facilitating communication among the various ethno cultural communities living on the Albanian territory and promoting the cultural values of the Roma community, in particular.
Minorities and marginalized groups/Building awareness of the Roma community through audio technology
The OSFA Civil Society Program concentrated also on building awareness of the Roma community with regard to the negative phenomena that have plagued its life and the life of many other communities in Albania. Such plagues include prostitution, trafficking and drugs. In this direction, there has been a double purpose. On the one side, the Roma community, in particular certain groups inside this community such as youth are alerted to the dangers of such phenomena. On the other side, a good part of these projects were implemented by Roma NGO-s, which has served to improve the capacities of Roma civil society organizations and the Roma community itself to cope with such phenomena. Such efforts were represented by the project “Building awareness of the Roma community through audio technology”, which was implemented by the “Romany Baxt” association. The aim of the project was to build awareness of the Roma community on problems such as drug abuse, prostitution, trafficking, etc., through relevant songs put in an album. Well known Roma singers were selected to sing in the Romany language songs which treated of problems that such plagues bring. The songs were orchestrated in a music studio, put in an album and then distributed among the Roma communities. Some of these songs were also illustrated.
Minorities and marginalized groups/The OSFA Civil Society Program’s involvement with the implementation of the National Strategy on Disabilities
A special attention in the Civil Society Program was paid to disabilities, both mental and physical. Although there is a National Disabilities Strategy approved by the Albanian Government on 7 January 2005, very little has been done to improve their real conditions. Starting from this situation, OSFA supported the project “For a more active role of civil society in the implementation of the National Disabilities Strategy”. The project carried out a broad based awareness campaign to disseminate knowledge on the existence of the strategy and demand its implementation at all levels. On the occasion of the International Disabilities Day, information days were organized in Tiranë, Pogradec, Elbasan and Shkodër. Various educational and informational materials were given out such as leaflets, brochures and posters, which were put up in evident places.
In addition, OSFA supported trainings to improve the capacities of organizations at local level so that they carry out effective advocacy and lobbying, implement awareness campaigns, etc. Special attention was paid to building awareness on the need to monitor the implementation of the disabilities strategy and create capacity to conduct the monitoring in everyday situations. The main aspects of the monitoring involve access to services for people with disabilities (health services, educational facilities and the whole range of social services), vocational training, employment, participation in decision making, etc. OSFA has stepped up cooperation with organizations involved with human rights in order to institutionalize long term and sustainable partnerships on various issues related to disabilities.
Minorities and marginalized groups/Establishing a network of trained people to help parents with mentally disabled children
Parents and relatives are key people in the improvement of the situation of children with mental disabilities. Specially crafted projects funded by OSFA targeted the families with children with disabilities, the reason for this being that the parents and siblings of these children are often unprepared to cope with the condition of their loved one. A project aimed to do precisely this was entitled “Establishing a network of specially trained people to assist the parents of children with mental disabilities”. The project was implemented by the Association for the Protection of Rights of People with Mental Disabilities in the year 2001. The project covered 2 municipalities, 9 communes and 49 villages in which training was provided to 60 members of the Association and 12 local governmental staff. In addition to mental disabilities, OSFA targeted other disabilities including the physical ones. Along these lines, support was granted to initiatives to assist blind people, including blind children. The blind represent another category who suffer marginalization as a result of negligence by both the society and the state. Some of the projects targeting this category have aimed to contribute to the integration of these children in the Albanian society, to make them equal members. This was the aim of the project called “integrating blind children” by the Association of the Blind of Albania, Branch of Tirana. The project was implemented in 2003. A number of sessions were held with the parents of these children in order to discuss with them the issue and ways to cope with it. The sessions were attended by students of the Institute of the Blind, teachers of the Institute and members of the Association. A number of leaflets and videos were produced to increase the understanding of the society of the situation of these children.
The same association received funding from the Civil Society Program to implement the project “Increasing activisms of young people of 7-20 years of age as a way to integrating them into the society”. Thanks to this project, six uneducated young people learned brail, the writing and reading system for the blind. In other activities held by the project, children and young people from the Institute of the Blind, but also blind people who never went to this Institute, gathered together to discuss the social implications of being blind. The children were taken on a number of excursions. The same project was implemented by the Shkodra Branch of the Association of the Blind which conducted courses for the blind young people and children to teach them brail. “Light for the Blind” was the project by this association in the year 2004. Thanks to the project, the association procured the materials necessary to teach Brail for 12 participants in the courses, who gained the skill to use the system effectively.
Minorities and marginalized groups/Sociological analysis of single parent families
Besides children with disabilities, the OSFA Civil Society Program paid special attention to the children and youth with social problems or those afflicted by such social plagues as blood vengeance. OSFA provided support to analysis and research involving these individuals, as well as concrete projects to improve the conditions of these children. A series of surveys were conducted with orphan children. Data collected was analyzed by specialized teams and problems most widely affecting these categories were identified. Surveys and analysis were also made regarding the situation of children in single parent families. These children are afflicted by a mountain of problems and issues. These problems were the focus of the project “Sociological analysis of single parent families” by the Association of “The voice of children calls”. It was implemented in Fushe-Kruje, Lac and Milot over the period of September 2004 – March 2005. The study analyzed the status of children with divorced parents, with one or both parents in emigration, convicted or re-married. In the context of the project, leaflets were produced and round tables were held to discuss and sensitize the public to the problems encountered by these categories of children. Other initiatives by the Civil Society program were focused on efforts to improve the conditions of children with social problems. Such was the project “Integrating and educating children and families involved in blood vengeance with the rest of the community”. The project was implemented by the Association “Come Children” in the area of Shkodra in the year 2003. The initiative targeted children who were forced to live in confinement, cut from school and the rest of the community, because of their families being involved in blood vengeance. The project provided classes for these children in their homes so that they could keep pace with their peers in school. In addition, activities such as social painting and other leisure events were held to make the children feel that they were being cared for and that there was a future for them.
Minorities and marginalized groups/Enhancing employment opportunities for women and young girls
Another social groups targeted by the OSFA Civil Society program were women and girls who encounter discrimination, violence and hardships in a patriarchal society like the Albanian one. To bring out into the open the issues and to educate the Albanian society, the program provided to support to numerous conferences, seminars, round tables and other awareness activities dedicated to women rights. The Civil Society Program primarily supported projects which contributed to the integration of women and girls in the labor market as a measure to improve their financial and social status. A widespread phenomenon in Albania, unemployment afflicts primarily women, thus making them dependent on the men for their livelihoods. For this reason, the Program supported initiative aimed at improving the social and economic status of women in society through enhancing their employment opportunities. Mention can be made of the project “Enhancing employment opportunities for women and girls” implemented by the Association “Useful to Albanian women” in the year 2005. Thanks to the project, 13 women were employed as house workers, babysitters or nurses. The project established an employment agency which screened the women, trained them and put them in the families needing the services of these women.
Minorities and marginalized groups/Enhancing integration opportunities for people in the satellite areas of Tirana into the bigger Tirana city
It is not by accident that the greatest number of projects dedicated to women and youth under the Civil Society Program targeted the rural and suburban areas. Especially in the suburban areas, the new comers from the remote and rural parts of the country, settling in the surroundings of the big cities and towns, represent the biggest category of the marginalized in Albania. To address the issues of this category, the Civil Society program funded projects aimed at surveying and studying their concrete situation and follow up with recommendations for policies to be implemented to effect improvements. On the other side, OSFA also funded projects and initiatives designed to enable the integration of the new settlers into the new environments. The Institute of Young Researchers was awarded a grant to research “Integration possibilities of the satellite settlements with the bigger Tirana city”. Implemented in 2001, the project covered the municipality of Kamza as one of the main areas receiving the new comers. The study produced a number of policy recommendations with regard to both short term and longer term policies to be implemented by the Governments and supported by donors in order to integrate this suburban part with the bigger Tirana city. The study was followed by activities designed to help the integration of the new settlers in real life conditions. In addition, educational activities were held such as for example domestic violence. Excursions and recreational activities were supported to benefit the children of these communities. For instance, an exhibition was held with drawings of the children and a sports championship was held among the schools of the area. All of these activities were organized in close cooperation with the local government units with jurisdiction over the area of project implementation.
Minorities and marginalized groups/Leisure, recreational and cultural centers
The Civil Society program, apart from support to women, children and youth in the suburban areas, has provided support to other needy categories of the society such as the pensioners, the laid off army men who lost their jobs due to army reform, or the former political convicts of the previous system. For pensioners, studies were carried out to identify the problems encountered by third age coupled by awareness activities to sensitize the population to the hardships encountered by them. There were also concrete projects to support them as was the one represented by the project of “establishing a Recreational, Leisure and Cultural Center” implemented by the General Association of Pensioners in Tirana in the year 2002. The center was used by the pensioners to read the press and pass time together with their peers. Two more beneficiary groups are represented by former political convicts and the laid off army men. In this context, the Civil Society program provided support to the Association of former political convicts “Musine Kokalari” to open the exhibition called “Prisons of the communist dictatorship”. The exhibition showed pictures and documents from life in the prisons of the communist dictatorship, many of which unknown to the public, which was further informed and sensitized to the sufferings of this category of former persecuted people.
Minorities and marginalized groups/Community centers for Roma youth and Roma children
“Community Center for Roma Youth and children” is one of the typical successful projects implemented by the OSFA Civil Society program. It made a positive impact on the improvement of the conditions of Roma and other marginalized groups in the city of Elbasan. The project started in 2004 and was designed to promote the integration of Roma youth and Roma children into the large Albanian society. One of the objectives of the project was to create friendly conditions for children in which they would feel welcome and stimulated to take part in the activities organized by the Center.
Initially about 30 Roma children were selected. They were gradually exposed to the very basic rules of politeness and orderly behavior in the Center and outside its territory. These children were afflicted by illiteracy which is one of the most widespread problems among the Roma community. To address the problem, the center established a reading and writing course for Roma children. Many of the children, although at an age suitable to be in fifth or sixth grade learned the first letters in the centers. The staff employed by the center pays great attention to putting and keeping these children in school. They keep in contact with the parents to try to convince them to enroll their children in school and to create them the necessary conditions to attend school like normal children.
Many of the children enrolled in language courses in the center have later been enrolled in the first grade, whereas older children have been tested by teachers and whenever appropriate have been enrolled in higher levels such as second or third grade. Among the courses opened up from the very beginning by the Center are: Romany language, Albanian language, various craftsmanship practiced traditionally by Roma, and the music course. The opening of the music course was very significant for the Roma members, because it provided an opportunity to preserve their cultural values and enhance respect towards the culture and music of the Roma community. Periodically the center holds various events to bring together the parents, siblings of the Roma children, but also members of other communities living in the same neighborhood with Roma. In these events, special emphasis has been put on the need to respect children’s rights and to create a warm family environment as a precondition for their normal upbringing and wellbeing. The Center has also been in the role of an interlocutor between the governmental authorities at the local level and a part of the population which had been neglected and forgotten.
Civic Education/Pre-university education program
Civic characteristics are not something that can be passed from generation to generation spontaneously. By contrast, civic features are educated and promoted through various methods which encourage participation, dialogue, awareness and education in the schools and throughout the society. However, civic education in schools should be a central mechanism in order to impart democratic citizenship at an early age. These values will see people through their lives as members of communities and society at large. Therefore, OSFA has given priority importance to support for civic education program for children and young people. The Pre-university education program’s had as its main goal the introduction of new teaching methods in schools and the improvement of the teaching and learning process in general. Towards the achievement of these goals, the Program provided support to trainings for teachers, preparation and publishing of teacher’s manuals and efforts to improve democracy in school life. In addition, the Pre-University Education program set objectives which contributed to increasing awareness on education as a public good serving society to enhance its prosperity and well being. The most important objectives included:
- Mobilization of civil society to review educational policies and education system in Albania;
- Strengthening of parent and teacher’s associations;
- Strengthening of student’s organizations;
- Democratization of school life, with particular emphasis on efforts to combat discrimination.
Civic education/establishing education boards
One of the important initiatives launched by OSFA to contribute to broad based decision making at school level is the project on ‘Establishing school boards” implemented by Specialists of Albanian Education in the year 2002. The project was conceived at a time when there was the need to expand democratic space at school level. The project proposed school boards as an advisory mechanism to the school principals to improve management while providing for enhancement of democracy and participatory processes at community level. The school board would also serve to establish bridges of cooperation with the community, the private sector, the civil society and other social partners and stakeholders. Up until that time, he mission of the school did not reflect the needs and objectives of a transitional society. According to a study developed by the Albanian Education Specialists in the year 2000, the school was still a closed and conservatory place. It did not maintain regular cooperation with the community and was still being managed according to centralized methods.
School boards were established on the basis of the tradition of student governments. They were at first fragile and not very strong, but with the passing of time are gradually taking on more and more important functions such as coordination of the work with representatives of civil society, serving as a link between the school and the community, assisting with identification of best solutions, gather information as widely as possible and educate community members on the need to participate actively in decision-making. As a result of establishing school boards, the following achievements were made:
- School image was enhanced;
- New mentalities and mind sets were created with regard to participation in decision-making;
- The school was now better maintained and protected by the entire community;
- School attendance was improved and so was the implementation of school regulations;
- Students achievements were enhanced;
- Proper behavior of students became the norm; there were few deviant behaviors.
Civic Education/The Higher Education Support Program
Higher Education Support Program (HESP) is one of the long run programs by OSFA. The goal of this program was to contribute to reform of the higher education institutions in Albania. The objectives of this program have followed the needs of the Albanian higher education institutions over the time. Therefore, at the beginning the program was focused on the training of young faculty and the publishing into Albanian of fundamental textbooks. After the year 2000, the Program came to be focused on the achievement of the following objectives:
- Strengthening university autonomy, with special emphasis on the financial autonomy;
- Increase transparency and responsibility of higher education institutions vis-à-vis the society and the tax-payers;
- Contribute to the consolidation of quality assurance mechanism in the universities;
- Contribute to the democratization of university life through encouraging student participation in university life;
- Contribute to establishing links between regional universities;
Special place in this program is taken up by publishings which filled a great gap of the greatest number of faculties of the University of Tirana and other universities in the country.
Civic education/Encouraging public discussions
Civic education does not involve only the children and young people, but also the mature population. The quality of democracy in a country depends also on the degree to which civic education enables the mature citizens to participate as widely as possible in the public issues. Participation relies on knowledge of the specific field, knowledge of the society, the government, the state and the community to which one belongs. At the same time, it requires capacity to function as part of a team and to make real contributions to effective solutions. One of these projects with considerable impact on encouragement of civic participation was the one involving information on the main powers and duties of the local government. It was implemented in 2004 and covered the regions of Kukes and Lushnje. It is one of the most representative projects with regard to the typology of initiatives implemented under the civil society program aimed at civic education and awareness on democratic processes.
The project was implemented in two phases. The first phase involved the organization of round tables. The second phase focused on citizen forums and the broadcasting of these forums on TV. The round tables served to identify the topics which were subsequently made the object of discussion in the forums:
- Review by the local government units of the status of individuals and families eligible for economic aid and social assistance benefits;
- Tax paying by private businesses in these towns; the level of cooperation between local authorities and the Regional Directorate of Taxes and Tariffs;
- Improvement of urban planning in the towns of Kukes and Lushnja.
Following the identifications of issues in the round tables, efforts focused on establishing citizen forums in both towns. The forums were established with the participation of representatives from the local government units, the local communities, the syndicates, the civil society, specialists from various fields and the local media.
Similar in nature was also the project: “Educating and encouraging participation from the community of the “Stalla” neighborhood in the city council meetings of Permet”. The project was implemented in July 2001. As part of the project leaflets were produced and distributed among the population and meetings were held between authorities and the neighborhood people. Parallel meetings were held with municipality staff to see if the municipality was planning to intervene in this quarter of the town. In the meetings between the head of the neighborhood community and representatives of the municipality council concrete issues were discussed like the poor inner roads, water shortages, sewerage and water pipes, neighborhood lights and illegal constructions. The project was received enthusiastically by the community. It encouraged people to participate in decision-making concerning their daily lives and brought concrete benefits to the community.
Civic education/Encouraging participation through concrete actions in the local communities
In order for civic education to be as productive as possible, concrete actions were designed to involve citizens in decision-making. The project aimed at promoting cooperation of local communities in implementing public works to improve their lives. A typical example is the project implemented by the Independent Forum of the Albanian Women called: “Promoting civic education through community based action”. The project covered seven towns in the country, Elbasan, Gjirokastër, Peshkopi, Berat, Shkodër, Tiranë and Pogradec and was implemented in the period of September 2004 – May 2005. In all of the towns, local communities participated widely and actively. The media was involved not just to report and inform the public, but also as a direct beneficiary. The actions also drew on the participation of local partners, NGO-s operating in the targeted areas and synergy was created with other similar initiatives happening in the targeted areas.
The project goal was to involve as many prefectures as possible and the maximum number of beneficiaries.
Civic education/Examining media role in the coverage of organized crime
In the process of civic education special importance has been paid to close cooperation with the media. In this context, OSFA supported a number of projects for them and with them. The project entitled “Examining media role in the coverage of organized crime” served the OSFA goal to further sensitize the public to its right for transparency and access to information. The topic of the project served as a test for freedom of press in Albania and access of the Albanian citizens to media. On the other side, it tested access of the media to information, especially since the media is considered to be the number one opinion shaper. The project monitored 7 big dailies based on their popularity and influence (“Shekulli”, “Panorama”, “Korrieri”, “Tema”, “Koha Jonë”, “Metropol” and “Gazeta Shqiptare”). The monitoring spanned the period of January – March 2005 and a total of 633 articles focusing on organized crime were scrutinized. The project had two main components: Monitoring of daily press with regard to coverage of organized crime and interviews with reporters covering organized crime in their respective journals.
The project offered several recommendations of which mention can be made of the following:
- Special care should be taken not to cross the line between reporting and passing judgment;
- Whenever possible, it was necessary to go beyond the simple news into more detailed reports and investigations;
- Special care should be taken when it came to identification and treatment of minors and victims;
- Ethnicity of the crime should not be a purpose in itself. Rather, emphasis was to be placed on the international nature of the crime and avoid the creation of stereotypes.
In addition, it was recommended to publish refutations and make corrections each time there was a request by the concerned parties, but also when there was room to do this. Recommendations also went to the authorities who should implement the laws on freedom of information, especially when there were reporters involved and avoid the passing of information when the source could not be cited.
Civic education/Citizens Advocacy Campaigns
Beyond informational and awareness activities, the OSFA Civil Society Program, in the framework of civic education, supported initiatives contributing directly to the protection of the rights of citizens. To achieve this, the citizens were informed in connection with their rights and have received concrete assistance with enjoying their rights in real life. OSFA supported the project by the Citizen Advocacy Office called “Citizen Advocacy Campaigns” developed in several towns (Tirana, Shkoder, Burrel, Berat, Lushnjë, Durrës, Vlorë, Pogradec, Elbasan and Gjirokastër) over the period of December 2003-February 2004, which turned this project into a true marathon dedicated to citizen advocacy.
The idea of the marathon was turned into the logo of the campaign. Activities followed one another as they were displaced from one town into another. In all of the targeted areas, the moving team established contact with the most important institutions: the Municipal Offices, the Police Stations, the secondary schools, the higher education institutions, the public bodies, etc. CAO worked together with the TV Station called Teuta TV in airing the program “Break the silence”. In this program, there were discussions about issues and problems concerning citizens in their everyday lives. In the meantime, in cooperation with the daily “Albania” and the female reporters, CAO published every week 2-3 articles related to public services and the number of citizens benefiting from the service. At the end of the project, after the numerous discussions with the citizens, representatives of local governments, police, prosecution offices, universities, NGO-s and intellectuals it followed that citizens took a keen interest in the fight against corruption.
Civic education/Moving beyond the boundaries
Civic education is also about educating the society in connection with decent attitudes towards the vulnerable groups of the society. This was the goal of the project “Moving beyond borders” implemented by Fountain House during May-July 2005. Fountain House or the Community Psychiatric House, prepared educational and awareness materials with OSFA funding. The information had to do mainly with instances when the rights of people with mental disabilities were inadvertently violated. The materials were prepared by a team of highly qualified professionals in the field of mental health. The implementers developed an intensive awareness campaign to educate the public with knowledge about the rights of people with mental disabilities. The materials were distributed free of charge to the relatives, NGO-s, human rights activists, community leaders, etc.
During May-July 2005, Fountain House was visited by 30-35 members a day. Members of this center are people with chronic mental ailments who live with their families. In the house they are given the opportunity to be with friends and engage in various social and self service activities as a way towards their rehabilitation and possible integration in normal life. The project provided Fountain House with added possibilities to improve the quality of its services to the people with mental problems, increase the interest of the members to attend the Center and contribute to the integration of chronically ill people in society by increasing awareness of the community of the responsibilities that we all have to honor the rights of this category of disabled people.
Civic education/Together on the road to cooperation
One of the main actions in every democratic system is participation in the elections. Transitional societies like Albania are characterized by a large voter turnout. However, the citizens have little knowledge of their political system and the public policies they vote for. Such an issue was placed at the focus of the project “Together on the road to cooperation”. It targeted the towns of Berati, Fieri, Lezha and Shkodra and was implemented in April 2005 with the participation of representatives from local government units, the municipalities, communes, prefectures, regions, civil society organizations and religious communities. The central topic of discussions was the cooperation of the actors in these towns in accordance with democratic established standards which are necessary for Albania’s integration into the EU. In addition, it was pointed out that cooperation in the towns of Berati, Fieri, Lezha and Shkodra, like the rest of Albania, would benefit the increase of Foreign Direct Investment, the protection of the environment, the conservation of museum and urban values, the development of historical and coastal tourism, public peace and normal life.
Civic Education/Democratic culture during the parliamentary elections of 2005
One of the projects aimed to enhance awareness of citizens to elections was the one called “Upholding democratic culture and honoring the code of ethics during the parliamentary elections of 2005” implemented by the Regional Association of “Professional Reporters”. The goal of the project was to reinforce democratic culture and demonstrate respect for the code of ethics during parliamentary elections of 2005, through mobilization of the local radio stations. In the programs aired by radio Gjirokastra there was broad participation by the intellectuals, teachers, psychologists, representatives of NGO-s, police, etc. The participants appreciated the pre-election atmosphere as relatively peaceful in the beginning and then gradually heating up. Negative phenomena were also present such as tearing opponent’s posters, failure to maintain ethics by some of the candidates and harsh language used in the campaign. However, participants underlined the good work of the local staff who had done a very good job with the preparation of the elections which were generally of better standards than in other parts of the country. Participants emphasized cases of politicians breaking the code of ethics and demanded a peaceful and civic atmosphere by all contenders.
Civic Education/The project “This is where I decide”
One of the successful projects supported by OSFA in the campaign of 2005, was the one called “This is where I decide” implemented by the “Mjaft” Movement. The project had the following objectives:
- Generation of concrete and substantial discussions between the Albanian citizens and the local authorities about important issues of local governance such as the budget, taxes, infrastructure, municipal parliament, etc.
- Encouraging local authorities to develop concrete platforms addressing the everyday needs of communitarian life;
- Increase of responsibility and accountability by the local authorities and increase of citizen’s participation in decision making’;
- Support for policies which promote governmental structures that enable citizen participation in policy and decision making.
In the course of the project, informational materials were distributed to increase public knowledge of the competences of local governments and the need for civic participation in policy and decision making. Public discussions were organized with contenders for mayors. In the areas targeted by the project, posters were placed everywhere with the significant message: “This is where I decide”. To make the campaign even more interesting, a vehicle was used to play music, broadcast humor and comicals stigmatizing the negative phenomena of today such as corruption, apathy, poor quality of public services, heavy bureaucracy, etc. The most important outcome of the project was the encouragement of citizens to participate and the promotion of democratic methods in search of better governance and increased social responsibility. In addition, the project contributed to enhancement of public discussions on issues of common concern and increased citizen participation in policy and decision making at the local level. The project created positive pressure on the candidates and the political parties which were forced to clarify their elections platforms and make their promises realistic and feasible. Further, the project contributed to the creation of a new and useful discussion culture based on analysis and arguments, this b ringing it closer to the citizens. As a result the activities of the projects served as a model to be followed on other occasions, albeit at smaller scale and lesser impact.
Civic Education/Cycle of discussions “Albania and the European Union”
In the context of awareness building and education of the younger generation with knowledge on the EU integration processes, the Civil Society program funded a number of project dedicated to the promotion of the culture of discussions and debates. One of these project started implementation in February 2002 under the title of “Albania and the European Union”. The project combined OSFA objectives with regard to the younger generation with those regarding the European Union. This explains why subsequently this project came to be called “Youth and Albania’s integration into the European Union”. The project was implemented by the Albanian National Debate Organization. It consisted of a number of discussions with participation of young people from the secondary schools and the universities in the country. The debates centered mainly around social topics, but there also discussions about political, legal and economic aspects of Albanian’s integration into the EU. ANDA also organized a series of contest with the participation of high school students about integration themes. The project proved to be successful especially with regard to fighting the apathy of young people towards the European Union. In one of the contests, the young people submitted essays on the topic “Albania and its future in Europe”. The emphasis of these essays was on the fact that Albanian was part of Europe as regard geographical, cultural and historical conditions. However, the essays also contained futuristic imagination about what was in store for the Albanian culture, economy and politics following its acceptance in the European family of nations. This cycle of debates is currently being developed with great success on various topics by the young people of the Movement Mjaft and has now swept the greatest part of the country.
Civic Education/Building awareness of the Albanians about the EU and integration processes
A constant priority of OSFA’s programs is building awareness ad educating the public about the integration processes that Albanian has come to be involved. Important work in these processes is to be done not just about the implementation of agreements, decisions and policies, but also as regards the education of the public with the values, benefits and costs accompanying integration processes. In this context, it is important to pay attention to the channels that transmit this kind of information along with surveying the perception of the Albanian public about EU integration process. This was the rationale that prompted OSFA in 2002 to fund the project called “Building public awareness on the EU and Albania’s integration into the EU”. The project did not target only the public administration, business and civil society organizations with a direct stake in EU integration, but also on the media as the main channel of transmitting information about the EU. The project conducted a survey of public knowledge of EU processes and structures and collection of data which were then used to prepare the awareness campaign. This was one of the first initiatives to measure perception and knowledge of the Albanian about EU and its integration processes.
After the data were collected and processed, a national conference was convened under the title of “Albania and the European Union, Perceptions and realities”. The survey showed that best informed about the EU processes were the public administration and the media followed by followed NGO-s and lastly came the business community. One of the findings was that 97.8 % of the respondents had heard of Albania’s efforts to gain membership in the European Union. Probably this is the result of media coverage of EU integration processes. Although the survey only covered Tirana, the sample was representative of the middle Albanian citizen. The implementation of the project, especially the collection of data and findings, together with the conference outputs gave a strong impetus to the increase of public knowledge of Albania’s prospects of joining the European Union.